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Cover image of Sarah Posner's 2020-21 book
Recommended; link to the publisher's site. Read an excerpt on the Americans United for Separation of Church and State website.

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29.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Misogynist gun nut grooming Permalink to this item

Idaho has more than its shares of disaffected Californians. Many of them resent the Golden State's politics, and are doing what they can to reshape our state into a more extremist opposite. Brian Lenney of Nampa, for example, a first-term state senator, and budding author, featured in a big, front page spread in today's Idaho Press. He had a chance to lean into the free advertising, but demurred. Contacted by the Idaho Press for an interview, Lenney responded, “No thanks.” His campaign schtick included complaining about Idaho being Republican enough, but not "conservative" enough, so of course he wouldn't be interested in talking to any "liberal media."

His two send-up "children's" books aren't exactly breaking news, written in 2018. Grooming children to affection for guns and antipathy toward women? So very "conservative." “Why Everyone Needs an AR-15: A Guide for Kids” and “Why is Feminism So Silly: A Guide for Kids” were panned by 35-year librarian (and recently retired state senator) Patti Anne Lodge. “I just think you have to be very careful in what you put into the minds of young children. And these books were written as cartoons or information for older people,” she said.

Yes, "information," or something.

27.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ollie ollie outs in free-o Permalink to this item

Sunset behind bare trees

The National Archives is asking former presidents and vice presidents from the last six administrations to check and see if they have stuff squirreled away that they're not supposed to. "Inadvertently," or whatever. The letter went to "representatives" for former presidents right back to Ronald Reagan, and the four Veeps that weren't presidents, plus Biden. It seems gratuitous for Biden and Pence. And pointless for the most recent former guy, after his brazen theft, claims of ownership, obstruction of the Archives' investigation and requests, and a Special Counsel sorting out the booty that's been recovered so far..

As Heather Cox Richardson notes (and what really should go without saying by now), the cases of Biden, Pence, and Trump "are not the same." Shouting it for the new House overlords will not inform them, nor change their plan for weaponizing committees and subcommittees to garner airtime on Fox News. But just to spell (and drag) it out:

"The issue was that NARA repeatedly asked Trump to produce documents it knew he had, and that he repeatedly refused even after being subpoenaed. Finally, the Department of Justice felt obliged to get a court order to search his property, and even now his lawyers refuse to sign off on paperwork saying he has turned in all the documents he stole. In contrast, Biden and Pence apparently did not know they had any documents with classified markings, alerted NARA as soon as they realized it, and have cooperated with authorities."

There are bigger fish to fry at this point (even though a former president attempting to traffic in classified documents with our country's frenemies for his and his family's personal profit should be enough to explode the heads of those sworn to uphold our constitution). She connects the high-level outline dots from 2016, 2020, 2022 and 2024, with first the NYT story, How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled, with its shorter in the dek: "The review by John Durham at one point veered into a criminal investigation related to Donald Trump himself, even as it failed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry." Turns out the Barr-and-Durham Italian Job turned up "suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump." Not really any more surprising than the sun coming up today, but still. They did catch something fishy on their expedition, bragged about how big it might be, and then let it quietly slither off into the dark.

Secondly, Timothy Snyder's blockbuster on The Specter of 2016, still haunting the halls of Congress and our intelligence agencies. "That Russiar thing" is still going (along with the war on Ukraine that Russia launched 9 years ago next month). Shorter Snyder:

"In 2016, Trump's campaign manager (Manafort) was a former employee of a Russian oligarch (Deripaska), and owed money to that same Russian oligarch. And the FBI special agent (McGonigal) who was charged with investigating the Trump campaign's Russian connections then went to work (according to the indictment) for that very same Russian oligarch (Deripaska). This is obviously very bad for Trump personally. But it is also very bad for FBI New York, for the FBI generally, and for the United States of America."

He goes on to detail the particulars, and spell out how bad. With the non-Twitter links in his original, on substack:

"The reason I was thinking about Trump and Putin back in 2016 was a pattern that I had noticed in eastern Europe, which is my area of expertise. Between 2010 and 2013, Russia sought to control Ukraine using the same methods which were on display in 2016 in its influence operation in the United States: social media, money, and a pliable candidate for head of state. When that failed, Russia had invaded Ukraine, under the cover of some very successful influence operations. (If you find that you do not remember the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, it is very possibly because you were caught in the froth of Russian propaganda, spread through the internet, targeted to vulnerabilities.) The success of that propaganda encouraged Russia to intervene in the United States, using the same methods and institutions. This is what I was working on in 2016, when a similar operation was clearly underway in the United States."

25.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of Florida Permalink to this item

The top headline in today's Idaho Press was School choice advocates gather at the Idaho State Capitol, with a big photo.

"School choice" is the current euphemism for public funds to support private schools, of course, and the event in Boise "was hosted by Florida-based organization National School Choice Week, whose purpose is to help parents explore school choices, including “traditional public, charter, magnet, online, private, and homeschooling,” according to their press release."

Our brand new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Debbie Critchfield, knows which way the political breeze blows, and she was there to celebrate Idaho's "educational freedom." (As long as you don't want to talk about certain subjects.)

Measuring outrage Permalink to this item

The legislature is in town, so here we go again with the anti-education Festivus. Skewering university presidents is a popular activity. Ballotpedia lists Florida man and first-term state senator Ben Adams' current profession as "Speaker." (He did a term in the House, before graduating.)

"Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, repeatedly questioned [Boise State University President Marlene] Tromp about a newly created position at the university with the title “vice provost for inclusion and belonging.” The position, which has not yet been filled, will be tasked with “leading and coordinating the efforts in Academic Affairs to support a richly diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all students, staff, and faculty,” the university website states."

This after the legislature cut $2.5 million out of the higher education budget two years ago, with the most extreme right-wing leading the charge against diversity, equity and inclusion. Adams wanted to know individual position salaries, which are public information, but not top of mind for the university president, or provost.

Sen. Scott Herndon, fresh off his MLK Day push to remove rape and incest exemptions from Idaho's already draconian anti-abortion laws (and yes, he compared his effort) wanted to know just how much Ibram X Kendi was paid for his recent speech at BSU. ICYMI, Dr. Kendi is one of America’s foremost historians and leading antiracist scholars, has won a National Book Award, is a NYT bestselling author, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities, the Founding Director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, noted by Time magazine in 2020 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 2021, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation head man, Wayne Hoffman was likewise outraged about not getting an answer, breezily labeled Kendi "racist" and a "racist activist" (but did not, however, say "I know you are but what am I?" for some reason), and "well known as the intellectual leader of the Marxist critical race theory and other ideas that suggest that America is, at its core, a racist country with racist institutions that predate the founding of our country."

Something tells me Ben and Scott and Wayne haven't read How to be an Antiracist. They could still watch the video of the MLK Keynote discussion with Kendi, on the BSU website until January 30.

If that's too much, they could tune into to Kendi's podcast, BE ANTIRACIST. Either way, they'll find an invitation to acknowledge that the claim that "'antiracist' is code for 'anti-white'" has been a white supremacist talking point for a long time. Kendi quoted President Andrew Johnson, from 1866, in the talk at BSU.

"Bigotry is an existential threat to human existence.... [We need to] come together, and realize our common humanity, and realize the beauty in our diversity. And to realize that those 'other people' are not the problem, and that the people who are telling us that those 'other people' are the problem are the real problem."
– Ibram X. Kendi

23.Jan.23 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Boiling and bubbling (toiling and troubling) Permalink to this item

On the demise of social media platforms in general, and Twitter in particular. A good, new-fashioned rant, about how "the harm is the new status quo." Includes the story of why (and a little how) LiveJournal connected dissidents, was coöpted, and then used to counterattack by Russia.

"I can’t promise what’s happening with Twitter is just the public meltdown of a malignant narcissist. I can’t promise it’s not more practice. Twitter is much bigger, much more influential, and much more ingrained into the fabric of modern society than Livejournal ever was. It’s a big bite to swallow. But it’s happened before. We know governmental entities with vested interests in eliminating avenues of effective dissent and the dissemination of truth (Saudi Arabia, China, others) provided funding for Musk to complete his purchase when he couldn’t otherwise pull it off. We see him, barely months at the helm, take off any remaining mask of progressivism or moral purpose and speed-run a descent into radicalization while working day and night, not even to make money, but to change anything that might smack of mercy or kindness or acceptance of others. To welcome monsters and ban journalists. To get people who’ve managed not to fall into the right-wing oubliette to turn against Ukraine, turn against vaccines, turn against Jews, turn against LGBTQ+ community but especially gender-nonconforming human [] beings, turn against fact-checking, turn against economic aid packages meant to benefit them and not him, turn against liberal democracy, turn against each other."

It's angry and long (no character limit—yet—on substack) and dark and peppered with profane adverbs. I ran out of gas about halfway through, but she makes good points. A month ago already, seems like a year.

Stop Talking to Each Other and Start Buying Things: Three Decades of Survival in the Desert of Social Media; "I bet you're wondering how we got here..." by Catherynne M. Valente.

"This thing will transform higher education" Permalink to this item

That's Thomas Rid's takeaway after Five Days in Class with ChatGPT at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies' Alperovitch Institute for Cybersecurity Studies, 5 x 5 hours of Malware Analysis and Reverse Engineering with Juan Andres Guerrero-Saade.

"I was one of the students. And I was blown away by what machine learning was able to do for us, in real time. And I say this as somebody who had been a hardened skeptic of the artificial intelligence hype for many years. Note that I didn’t say “likely” transform. It will transform higher education."

Shorter: it "filters mundane questions"; it provides quick answers to student questions without disrupting the flow of the class; and everybody could keep up. It can explain blocks of code. It can write blocks of code. It can "fix this." (I can't vouch for any of that, but he sounds convinced, describes it in convincing detail.) There are limitations. "It created fake names in literature reviews, and has no concept of accuracy."

“Often the code was out of date,” added Martin, and pointed out that the language model had its knowledge cutoff in 2021, so about two years ago. Code often had evolved since. Don’t ask it to explain cryptonyms. Don’t trust book recommendations. It will hallucinate. It will make mistakes. It will perform more poorly the closer you move to the edge of human knowledge. It appears to be weak on some technical questions. Some of these limitations will be overcome by the next versions, others will not.

Using it to cheat and plagiarize is already tired. Pushing the cutting edge of knowledge is wired:

"[H]ow can the most creative, the most ambitious, and the most brilliant students achieve even better results faster? How can educators help them along the way? And how can we both use machines that learn, and help learn, to push out the edge of human knowledge through cutting-edge research faster and in new ways?"

It was more than 20 years ago that Google made a big splash by solving search. (I'm old enough to remember Altavista.) You can see why Google just issued a "code red" and brought Larry and Sergey back to consult, from this:

"Back in the day you had to Google for a few minutes at a minimum, jump hectically from result to result, wade through some forum, until you finally found a useful response; by then the class conversation had moved on. ChatGPT will give you the response in 5 to 15 seconds, literally. That response speed was game-changing last week, because we could keep up with the instructor in real time..."

22.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

If I Could Only Remember My Name Permalink to this item

A new car turned us into SiriusXM customers a year ago, and I have to say, it's one of my favorite subscriptions. As local NPR supporters and listeners, it seems we get only part of one day a week (Saturday) of good old fashioned music programming, but Sirius is always on, with layers and layers to explore.

River birch bark

When one of the Sirius notices teased a David Crosby homage that didn't load on the first try, I ran the search widget and found a stack of interviews with John Fugelsang; three in the depth of the pandemic. I picked April 16, 2021. After a slightly over-the-top introduction from Fugelsang, Crosby started by saying "You gotta town it down! People are going to think were dating." He figured his touring life was over by then, on the verge of 80, dealing with tendinitis, and waning stamina. After crediting Crosby and his band with helping end the war in Viet Nam, Fugelsang said:

"I think 'celebrity' might be the dumbest thing that humans have ever created, and so when I see artists like yourself who have taken that capital and used it to fight fascists, to fight racists, to fight these bastards, fight for empathy and love, it inspires me to keep on going..."

They go on to talk about the economics of the music industry, just after Crosby sold his catalog, to make ends meet at the end of his life. And on the verge of a 50th anniversary re-issue of his "first solo" album (as he called it), If I Could Only Remember My Name. (That release turned out to be one day short of half a year later.)

The original happened just after Crosby's girlfriend was killed, and his friends buoyed him up "doing the one thing that I could do, in the one place I felt safe."

"In the midst of a song, I would not feel the pain... you know, music, we think of it as salvation, we think of it as joy, as an incredible way to transmit ideas, but it's also medicine.... It saved my life."

His friends included Graham Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia and other members of the Grateful Dead, Jack Cassady, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Santana. "Whoever showed up that night would be "the band." Crosby said Garcia's contribution to the album was "enormous."

"If he walks into a room, every musician in the room is plugged in, right then. ... He was a magical guy; there was a thing that happened, every time he and I would start to play anything. ... It was magical. He was wide open, and fully on. I mean, on."

Fugelsang also extols the most recent four albums Crosby put out. I've got a lot of catching up to do. I did get back to the "featured" program which was a 6-hour (!) "Village Interviews" show, starting with Crosby picking the songs for a "folk set":

Roger McGuinn, "Bells of Rhymney"
James Taylor, "The Water is Ride"
David Crosby, "Orleans"
Joel Rafael, "America Come Home"
Pete Seeger and the Weavers, "Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)"
Josh White Jr., "Strange Fruit"
The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Update: From the NYT's "PLAYLIST," David Crosby's 15 Essential Songs, "in chronological order, [] 15 songs spanning David Crosby's six-decade career," and this:

"In 2014, at 72, he restarted what turned out to be a prolific solo career with “Croz,” the first of five studio albums he released in the next seven years; there were live recordings, too. His voice, amazingly enough, held up for his final creative surge."

21.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The gifts that keep on giving Permalink to this item

Our new alien overlords (know your meme: it was 1994) have certainly livened up the House of Representatives. Take George Santos, or whatever his name is. Please! Turns out that he posted that drag queen item himself, on his Wikipedia C.V. (Yeah, who knew?) HCR reports that "in the same Wikipedia article, he appeared to claim he was an actor on the Disney Channel show Hannah Montana.'

Photo of bags of coffee beans

Representative Bill Foster (D-IL), an award-winning physicist who holds a PhD from Harvard, ... [i]n response to the news that House speaker Kevin McCarthy has put Santos on the House Science Committee, tweeted: “As the only recipient of the Wilson Prize for High-Energy Particle Accelerator Physics serving in Congress, it can get lonely. Not anymore!... I’m thrilled to be joined on the Science Committee by my Republican colleague Dr. George Santos, winner of not only the Nobel Prize, but also the Fields Medal—the top prize in Mathematics—for his groundbreaking work with imaginary numbers.”

Then there's Jim Jordan, full of himself, demanding that "the stonewalling must stop," even as the subpoena he was served has never been answered. Judicious-delicious.

Have you heard the one about the 30% national sales tax? Abolish income tax, payroll tax, estate and gift tax, and the IRS! Not to get all gaslit or anything but "The bill refers to the sales tax as a 23% tax, because it would make up 23% of the final cost." You don't say! Raise the price 30%, and hey the increase is only 23% of the new total.

That's some new math right there, to go along with the long-in-the-tooth "supply side" meme from the rise of the neo-Republicans in the 1980s, when the benefits of worker productivity started trickling up, and never stopped. That started before The Simpsons!

Speaking of gaslighting, the PBS Newshour had the new chair of the House Oversight committee, James Comer of Kentucky on last night to tell us about the renewed interest Republicans have in oversight that went so quiet during the reign of error that ended on January 20 two years ago. Are we really going to both-sides all that? Because... the classified documents! For example. Geoff Bennett did at least hold his feet to the fire with the questions.

Geoff Bennett: "...How can the American people view your investigation as credible when you openly admit that you're not as concerned about the underlying issue?"

Rep. James Comer: "The underlying issue is not being understood by the national media...."

He explains that "the issue" is, we're going to investigate the hell out of the Bidens, end of story, full stop. We don't even remember who the former guy was. Jared Kushner? Who's that? And as for all those unanswered subpoenas from the last Congress, "I think the subpoenas have been undermined by the fact that the Democrats issued too many."

If your conspiracy is big enough, all bets are off! Still ten days left in the month and I've used up my quota of exclamation points.

20.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Folder fetish Permalink to this item

Brian Tyler Cohen's a bit over the top for me sometimes, but he can entertain. Yesterday's episode of Legal Breakdown, for example, in which he and and Glenn Kirschner deconstruct one of the former guy's "truth" streams. The one where he said he collected the "really cool" CLASSIFIED, TOP SECRET and maybe the really coolest "TOP SECRET SCI" folders, but not the documents that had been brought to him in the Oval Office for presidential review. He just really liked the folders. From "Page 1":

"When I was in the Oval Office, or elsewhere, & "papers" were distributed to groups of people & me, the would often be in a striped paper folder with "Classified" or "Confidential" or another word on them. When the session was over, they would collect the paper(s), but not the folders, & I saved hundreds of them..."

Did you now! Just cadging office supplies? On "Page 2," FG explains

"these were just ordinary, inexpensive folders with various words printed on them, but they were a "cool" keepsake."

That he kept. But none of the documents. Contrary to the boxes that were eventually turned over, and the ones that weren't turned over, but the FBI found when they executed the search warrant issued on probably cause with turned out to be actual cause. And then some more.

In other FG news and opinion, here's one from Judge John Middlebrooks of the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida, dismissing a FG "lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose."

With a sanction of $937,989.39 (love the 39 cents) to (partially) cover the many defendants' legal fees and costs. Bad news for Alina Habba, who is "jointly and severably liable" for all that, with the Plaintiff of Frivolity. She may be left holding the bag, obviously. The bag is detailed in Appendix A of the judge's order, with a Summary Chart on page 1, and four pages of detailed charts for the long list of defendants (including Hillary R. Clinton, HFACC, Inc., John Podesta, the DNC, DNC Services Corporation, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Robert Mook, Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, Peter Fritsch, Bruce and Nellie Ohr, Igor Danchenko, Neustar, Inc., Neustar Security Services, Rodney Joffe, and Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd.) and their longer list of attorneys and paralegals. #ETTD

Middlebrooks in his order Thursday noted that "Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries."

"He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer," Middlebrooks wrote.

"He knew full well the impact of his actions ... As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba."

18.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The only color is white Permalink to this item

Nexus of news has me thinking about "visible light." We imagine it's "white," which contains "all colors," and then we note that bees can see into the "ultraviolet" part of the electromagnetic spectrum, so their all-colors "white" is more inclusive than ours. Hmm.

"CBR" sounded like some kind of news outlet, maybe Canadian? But come to find out it's Comic Book Resources, ok. For a story about a work by "Dr. Seuss," I guess that fits well enough. [Claimer: I loved Dr. Seuss books when I was a new reader. The awesome graphics, the great story lines, the word play. The subtext that was not lost on me was that Reading is Fun.]

Said story: School Ends Dr. Seuss Reading When Students Recognize Its Racism Lesson. "An Ohio school's reading of Dr. Seuss' The Sneetches is abruptly cut short when one of the students recognizes the book's lesson about racism," goes the dek. (Sneetches are yellow, by the way, with white collars, if that matters to you.) The straight-news story I saw first, Jan. 9, was in The Columbus Dispatch, Olentangy Schools official cuts off reading of Dr. Seuss book during NPR podcast.

After reading the blog take, and the news, I started listening to the Planet Money podcast, and then I had to start over, because I needed to call my in-house educator (aka "Jeanette") in, to listen with me. Because it is So Good. 29 minutes. Take the time, it's worth it.

The Economics Lessons in Kids' Books

Done? Ok. I have to add another Claimer: that kid, Ariman, has the same issue with his Rs as I did back in the day, that got me into speech therapy. (Which was fine, and as best anyone can tell, it was successful.) Ariman's 3rd-grade observation about the book "Pancakes, Pancakes" was rather brilliantly put:

ARIMAN: He's a consumer, figuratively and literally, because he's getting it, and he's also eating it. And consuming means eating. So he's figuratively and literally a consumer.

We find out that NPR reporter Erika Beras' idea for a thing to do with a 3rd grade class was brilliant, and charming, and really, really instructive. And then we come to the "a real-life lesson about how hard it can be to keep the messiness of the world out of economics class" that she hinted at in her introduction.

BERAS: For the first time all day, the kids are really quiet. They sit still on the rug in their chairs, just staring up at the grown-ups in the room.

NPR broadcast the podcast episode on January 6, Epiphany, so that was kind of brilliant. And unlike the news reports and blogs that perked up at the controversy, Beras and others she talked to took it easy on the assistant director of communications for the OSD, Andera Beeman for getting queasy when the students helped her recognize that there was more than "just" economics in the 1961 book about the star-bellied (and plain-bellied) Sneetches.

The episode does not throw Beeman under the bus (the way the Olentangy "official" statement kind of did, four days after the news hit the Dispatch).

"Politics" had been officially declared off-limits for the visit. Nobody said "racism" was off limits, because that goes without saying these days, right? "I don't know if I feel comfortable" the comms gal said, when she declared a "pause" and then a "cut this one off." (Ouch.) “I just feel like this isn't teaching anything about economics, and this is a little bit more about differences with race and everything like that,” she said. But it's totally about economics.

"The Sneetches," published in 1961, is a book about two kinds of Sneetches: those with stars on their bellies and those without stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches are judged negatively by their appearance, so capitalist Sylvester McMonkey McBean makes money selling them stars for their bellies. Meanwhile, the Star-Bellied Sneetches don’t like associating with the Plain-Belly Sneetches, so they start paying to have a machine take their stars off. ...

“It's almost like what happened back then, how people were treated … Like, disrespected ... Like, white people disrespected Black people...,” a third grade student is heard saying on the podcast.

David Mahon, executive director of the University of Cincinnati’s Alpaugh Family Economics Center noted the game theory element between the star-Sneetches and the no-star-Sneetches. The principle of "free entry, [] what happens when there’s a profitable opportunity for someone to enter the business."

Betsey Stevenson, professor of public policy and economics at the Universt of Michigan, and former chief economist at the US Department of Labor said she recommended the book be included to the NPR reporter, so light up a conspiracy theory? At any rate, Stevenson gets the money quote:

“I think most children have a natural inclination to think that excluding people based on superficial characteristics is wrong and then can see how that links to racism, which I think most kids naturally think is wrong. And it was the kids expressing that idea that probably made (Beeman) worried about how their parents would feel with them expressing that idea.”

She also graciously hesitated to criticize the administrator, given the possibility of "parents [being] angry and harrassing" the district. Given the ubiquitous news of angry and harrassing parents these days, I have some sympathy for her, too.

A few miles down the Boise River, after a Jan. 9 school board meeting went completely pear-shaped in a suit, a first-term state senator, Chris Trankel, threatening the board ("you better throw this policy out"), and then interrupting the Chair of the Board to insist "I have the floor."

He did not. This came after "the meeting was almost adjourned many times ... due to people applauding someone's comments, speaking out of turn and yelling at the board." The board adjourned the meeting, and have now canceled the next one, scheduled for Jan. 23 as well.

Venn diagram of Politics, Economics, Culture

15.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Coordinated inauthentic behavior Permalink to this item

Such an evocative phrase. It jumped out at me in today's guest essay by Nathan E. Sanders and Bruce Schneier, How ChatGPT Hijacks Democracy. Never mind spoofing your English assignment or taking over poetry. Consider the threat of artificial intelligence software that can mass-produce human-enough like writing. From the essay, with its original hyperlinks:

"ChatGPT could automatically compose comments submitted in regulatory processes. It could write letters to the editor for publication in local newspapers. It could comment on news articles, blog entries and social media posts millions of times every day. It could mimic the work that the Russian Internet Research Agency did in its attempt to influence our 2016 elections, but without the agency’s reported multimillion-dollar budget and hundreds of employees."

In the yard waste Dumpster

A measure of the scale of the problem: they say Facebook has been pruning "over a billion fake accounts a year." Another evocative phrase for what's coming: "a rhetorical drone warfare campaign," applied to lobbying. Never mind the carpet-bombing of yore; an AI system could be (will be) made to "identify the member of Congress with the most leverage over a particular policy area," and "target undecided representatives sitting on committees controlling the policy of interest and then focus resources on members of the majority party when a bill moves toward a floor vote."

Sanders and Schneier identify the "potentional for acceleration" that AI-powered lobbying will offer:

"Speed out of the gate is a huge advantage in an ecosystem in which public opinion and media narratives can become entrenched quickly, as is being nimble enough to shift rapidly in response to chaotic world events.

"Moreover, the flexibility of A.I. could help achieve influence across many policies and jurisdictions simultaneously. Imagine an A.I.-assisted lobbying firm that can attempt to place legislation in every single bill moving in the U.S. Congress, or even across all state legislatures. ..."

The American Legislative Exchange Council will be very interested.

12.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Boxed in Permalink to this item

Post-midterms, my spam bucket is blissfully depopulated these days, and I can actually keep up with it. (Don't get me started on the Inbox.) There's now space for non-political messages, such as "Congrats! You've received an [sic] Southwest Airlines reward," from "Good News," no less, and I'm thinking, what is this, some kind of a sick joke? but of course it's just run-of-the-mill phishing.

Search suggestion list

And from Cargo Container Hom., Multiple shipping containers to build with is an excellent method of resuing. Both the sender and subject line a little clipped, and all that's visible in the message preview is "Build Your Own SHipping Container Home! S.." and I'm thinking, who wants to live in a shipping container?

I mean it's a 40 x 8 x 10 ft steel box, you know? Or two of them. Or three. Given their ubquity, it has indeed turned into an art form, as you can search for yourself. The 20 Most Amazing, 50 Best, 10 examples, Top 16, Wonderful Creative Large, 7 Incredible Fabricated, Luxury, and inevitably, "How to." Props for all that, and maybe especially for this one with style integrity, shown by "liveincontainer.com". Not to put too fine a point on it. It's #5 of 10 examples, "Tetris-like structures", no less.

"It might not look that big at first glance, but a large container home like this consists of up to 6 different twenty-foot containers. That’s almost enough to have 12 separate rooms! If that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is."

The thing is, I lived in a shipping container back in the day, what we called a "mobile home," even if the running gear were not in running shape (which most—including mine—were not). (I also lived outdoors off a lightly loaded, top-heavy bicycle for most of two months, but that's another story.) 10x55? 65? The memory is fading. It was a "Tiny Home" before that was a Thing. Two bedrooms! Eventually, it had new plumbing and a one-off solar water heater I designed and built, with lots of tutelage from Powell Plumbing, and my brother's help.

Google Imagery from Oct. 2021

Its corner view of the Palouse rolling up to Paradise Ridge now shows more pavement, and many more, smaller, more mobile container homes. Google Maps has it pinned as "Rambler RV Park" and "Renaissance RV Park," both appropriately funny names. the gravelly road still carries the older name, "Arny's Trailer Court," known to me after Arny was already apocryphal.

There's still a hundred acres of wheat field (and the Moscow Cemetery, perched on a drumlin sort of ridge) buffering it from town. More traffic on highway 8 has replaced the Burlington Northern freights that can only haunt the Latah Trail.

11.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How far is too far? Permalink to this item

That question occorred to me as I listened to the Nassau Co., NY Republican Party chairman, Joseph G. Cairo Jr., explaining that "George Santos' campaign last year was a campaign of deceit, lies and fabrication," which "went too far."

Nassau Co., by the way, is part of Long Island, and as of the most recent census, has a population of 1.4 million, so well larger than 8 of our states, and on par with Main, New Hampshire, and Hawaii. The NY-3 district is half that much, only part of the county, and into Queens. (The last time NY-3 showed a majority for a Republican presidential candidate was for George W. Bush, in 2004.)

The majority leader of the "most open and transparent" party, Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, "said that party leadership would handle questions over Mr. Santos “internally” but acknowledged that “there were concerns” he and others wanted addressed."

For their part, the county leadership is shunning Santos, and calling for him to resign. It's not just empty palaver either, they're voting with their finances: "The Nassau Republican Committee confirmed that it had refunded the more than $120,000 that Mr. Santos had given to the county committee."

So far, Santos is refusing to quit.

Why we can't have nice things Permalink to this item

The Farm & Ranch section was trimmed out of our local newspaper, the Idaho Press, and so I didn't even know there was a Kuna rodeo. (I have gone to a rodeo, at least once. In Montana, as it happens.) Last June, the story was in the Kuna Melba News, ebullient, the venue owner out on a bright day with fill flash as he points to the future parking area at his Crooked 8. His daughter was the president of the Kuna High School rodeo club. The city was thrilled to announce and promote the event in early September, and the "first annual" event was apparently a success.

But then the story in Sunday's paper, about a "communication breakdown" resulting in plans for two rodeos, on the same weekend? Something something a city-owned location, and "the newly formed Kuna Stampede" with a link to a Facebook group, Kuna Must Know (but must first be allowed into the private group). The whole story seems to be rather between the lines from where I sit way up north in Boise. To today's headline:

Kuna mayor: Rodeo canceled following death threats
"After a week of being barraged by angry emails, chaotic social media threads and citizens coming to city council meetings upset and seeking answers, Mayor Joe Stear said the [death] threats [sent to city staff] were the tipping point. The cancellation was announced Tuesday."

10.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hot water, warm water, and chill Permalink to this item

New to me, found via Mastodon, Jay Kuo's blog with the cute name of The Status Kuo. (Quid Pro Kuo must have come in second.) He describes Legal Developments and a Speed Bump in Trumpworld, starting with the hot water: (David) Rody served Rudy (Giuliani) more than a month ago, in the "Big Grift" fraud investigation. Did Mr. T purposely lie about "election fraud" even before he lost on November 8, as part of a plan to defraud contributors, and raise more than a $quarter billion from the duped?

We kind of know he did, but that's not the same as proving it in court, but "jurors understand intuitively the motives behind and the damage that can result from lying." And we all know that "he knew he could create chaos, anger, and with it opportunity to grift from his base, just as he has always done from the public at large."

Rudy will say "Attorney-client privilege!" and the prosecutors will trump that with "Crime-fraud exception!"

The warm water is that the Fulton County, Georgia special grand jury has wrapped up its work (thank you for your service), and we await the other shoe on the question of whether there was criminal interference (that "perfectly criminal" phone call we all got to listen to) in Georgia's 2020 election. This bit was news to me:

"This grand jury is not to be confused with a different grand jury tasked with deciding whether or not to indict anyone in this case based on possible charges presented by District Attorney Fani Willis. That grand jury meets regularly on Tuesdays, so keep an eye out each Tuesday for any kind of news out of that grand jury."

And chill bits on the OMG BIDEN HAD CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS TOO:

"Okay, so deep breath moment. While this complicates the public narrative around Trump a bit, it doesn’t change his legal peril, nor does it open Biden up to prosecution. Why? Because Biden’s lawyers did exactly what they were supposed to do: They notified the Justice Department and the National Archives immediately, have been cooperating with investigators, and returned the documents as soon as they learned that there were a handful of classified documents there in a locked closet."

All the stuff that Donald J. Trump most emphatically did NOT do, as he obstructed the National Archives from recovering the people's documents that he had purloined. Or, shorter from David Roberts:

"Literally everyone involved—from both parties & the media—knows that the Biden documents story bears no relationship to the Trump docs story."

For example, (mis)managing the IRS Permalink to this item

H/t to toots from LOLGOP for the WaPo story, and response. House GOP votes to slash IRS funding, targeting pursuit of tax cheats. That is, the House GOP is ok with tax cheating, and not ok with enforcing actual laws. They're "fulfilling [a] 2022 election pledge" in that regard, leveraging screams of EIGHTY SEVEN THOUSAND IRS AGENTS!!! Or "tax auditors." Either way, a whopper, as the Post dryly notes the cherry-picked number "projected the total hires across all of the agency’s operations over the next decade."

The Congressional Budget Office reported yesterday that they estimated "clawing back IRS funds would curtail its ability to collect unpaid taxes, adding about $114 billion to the deficit over the next decade."

Quite a return on a $71 billion disinvestment. "Senate Democrats will not entertain it," Finance Committee chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, nor would President Biden approve it, I imagine. Hard to know how much of the House GOP "actions" are simply theatrical, but I suppose most of them?

Our newly minted Speaker claimed funding the IRS would allow the government to "go after you," which, (a) yes, if you're cheating on your taxes it might, and (b) you should probably know that it can do that already.

The two basic principles of authoritarianism Permalink to this item

It seems like time to figure out a way to pin this explainer, as I'm prompted to say it for the third time (at least). (Here's the first and the second instance, now a monthly theme, apparently.)

  1. YOU CANNOT TELL US WHAT TO DO, and
  2. WE WILL TELL YOU WHAT YOU CAN DO.

The prompt is one prong of the new rules regime in our House of Representatives, dictated by the Freedom Caucus extremists who have finally come to real power. They've entrained the entire Republican caucus, which may still have members who imagine themselves "moderate" (hello Mike Simpson!) but never mind that; the 202 have given in to the 20, and ceded power. The vestiges of Rule of Law are being erased by the Rule of Power. In The Guardian: House Republicans move to defang ethics office investigating its members.

That's principle number one. Principle number two is in the subhead: "Incoming majority also created new special subcommittee to investigate justice department and intelligence agencies."

The rest is narrative. We're headed for some dark times. Compare this detail of the plan cooked up in the dark of the lame duck cloakrooms with Chip Roy's gaslighting us about how "open and transparent" everything is going to be now:

"The changes to the [Office of Congressional Ethics] are twofold: reintroducing term limits for members of the bipartisan board, which would force out three of four Democratic-appointed members, and restricting its ability to hire professional staff to the first 30 days of the new congressional session.

"...[T]he OCE requires board approval to open new investigations, while new hires are typically approved by the board. The term limits would mean Democrats need to find new board members, which can take months – far longer than the 30-day hiring period.

"In essence, the changes mean that by the time the OCE has a board, it may have run out of time to hire staff, leaving it with one counsel to do possible investigations into the new House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, [Reps. Jim Jordan (OH), Scott Perry (PA), and Andy Biggs (AZ)] who defied January 6 select committee subpoenas."

You cannot tell us what to do.

9.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Weaponization," now Permalink to this item

If you've ever played a game where the other players make up rules while you go along, you'll recognize what's happening in the House, now that the new team is in charge. Catie Edmondson, for the New York Times: House G.O.P. Races to Line Up Votes for Rules After McCarthy Concessions. The new guy is now "toiling to tamp down defections from rank-and-file members who said he had given too many concessions to the hard right in the desperate and drawn-out process of securing his job."

"The measure scheduled for a vote on Monday evening includes the so-called Holman rule, which allows lawmakers to use spending bills to defund specific programs and fire federal officials or reduce their pay; opening up spending bills to unlimited amendments; and paving the way for the creation of a new select subcommittee under the Judiciary Committee focused on the “weaponization” of the federal government."

The weaponization is on, in other words. If they can overcome any group of five members who are willing to dig in their heels. Those backroom "handshake" deals might not see the light of day.

Screed farm whack Permalink to this item

In the heat of the circus last week, Conservative [sic] HQ's George Rasley was all Still No Speaker – McCarthy Opposed by Broad Coalition of Conservatives [sic] and Twenty Conservative [sic] Heroes Hold The Swamp At Bay, and featuring Jeffery "The Right Resistance" Rendall for Unpredictable Trump's McCarthy support does not signal move to establishment, and The Founding Fathers would side with the House GOP ‘rebels’. [And with enslavers.] "Today's Headlines" round-up features:

Photo from the Boise mountains, Dec. 5, 2022

And if you stick with them, you scroll down to a 2020 [sic] Election Year Campaign Survey, Stop Socialim Today poll, and, last but not least, ATTENTION: TRUMP Declares Border Emergency.

But the Sunday lede is Rasley's victory lap, "for all Republicans and Conservatives" [sic] in the new House rules. I actually clicked through that one, to see the particulars of his celebration. What's dirty backroom dealing when your opponents do it is "what's called negotiations and it happens every day in Congress" when it's your peeps. This is telling:

"[I]t is still not entirely clear to us why it took a week of increasingly hostile public statements and 15 ballots for the parties to get together and come to an agreement, but here we are..."

Ah, and next from "an interview with Roger L. Simon of the Epoch Times" explains why ET is phoning into my daily spam bucket; CHQ sold my email address to some of their "good friends."

The backroom dealing produced "the most open and transparent rules ever seen in the United States Congress," if we can believe Paul Gosar's assessment. Ha ha. Here are Simon's (shorter) bullets:

Which is to say, we will have to negotiate with terrorists to try to forestall the attack on the full faith and credit of the USA. Another long quote (from the inevitable "our friend") notes that the "Church-like Committee" will be in the Judiciary Committee under Jim Jordan, a member of the 2020 seditious conspiracy who refused to answer a lawful subpoena of the Jan. 6 committee last year. Rick Manning, president of "American [sic] for Limited Government" refers to who they'll be going after as "these rabid dogs." That should raise the morale at the FBI.

The "most open and transparent rules" also provide for "seven bills under a closed rule with one hour of debate equally divided" to do all sorts of stuff that will never make it through the Senate, starting with "A bill to rescind certain balances made available to the Internal Revenue Service." Andy Biggs gets a word, gaslighting us about how "we deliberated as a body for the first time in a long time."

The contradiction between "unwinding the surveillance state" and "securing our country against threats from Red China and across the southern border" whizzes right over Rasley's head. At least for the call to action, phoning my Representative to vote "AYE" on the package "when it comes before the House today" [posted on Sunday, really?] is unnecessary. Idaho's two members of the House are both go along guys without my goading.

At the end of CHQ screeds, there's a bullet list of categories. This one includes "2022 Election," and "Liz Cheney" among the baker's dozen. I'd say "inexplicably," but they're nothing if not open and transparent in their grudges and living in the past.

8.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The better (and lesser) angels of our nature Permalink to this item

After the rumpiest six of the slim majority of the 118th House had killed the fourteenth vote (and I hadn't been watching closely enough to see that Gaetz refused to answer the roll call so that he could go last and supposedly be the one delivering the punch; and his side of the House errantly applauding for his "Present," before realizing that Boebert's "present" and four not-McCarthys had already sealed another failure), and the Democrats' bid to stop adjournment seemed to be failing, and then the Republicans had a rethink to try one more time, I followed along only until it was a lock. And tooted thusly:

So, on vote #15, after adjournment failed, 3 "presents" are McCarthy's ticket to the big office. 434-3 = 431, and 216 wins. Gaetz, Good, and Rosendale don't matter. For the good of the country, I hope they adjourn after that, and leave the rules for Monday. It's going to be a horrid enough sausage as it is. #118thCongress

Especially with three of the most disaffected extremists on the Rules committee. I've seen the reports with clips of McCarthy gleefully waving and whacking the gavel, and excerpts of his remarks. He never gives up. Now the clown show can grind into high gear. Kudos to the former guy for last minute whipping the tiny rump, steeped in their slim minority tipping point-power.

What I did NOT see in a short browse of major MSM late yesterday was anything more than the closing snippet of Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reminding all that it was the people's gavel, and graciously presenting it to the newly elected Speaker. Turns out (with my daily h/t to Heather Cox Richardson), before McCarthy gave formal endorsement to "a right-wing wish list for investigations, business deregulation, and enhanced use of fossil fuels, along with attacks on immigration, “woke indoctrination” in public schools, and the 87,000 new IRS agents [sic] funded by the Inflation Reduction Act to enforce tax laws," there was this (my emphasis added):

"...and the D in Democrat stands for Deliver."

"In contrast to McCarthy stood Minority Leader Jeffries, who used the ceremonial handing over of the speaker’s gavel from the Democrats to the Republicans to give a barn-burning speech. He began by praising “the iconic, the heroic, the legendary” former House speaker Nancy Pelosi as “the greatest speaker of all time,” and offering thanks to her lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Jim Clyburn (D-SC)."

All praise to C-SPAN unleashed this week, and their provision of user clipping (and some user) to provide us the video excerpt of Jeffries' whole 15 minute speech. (Minus the gavel hand-off, we don't need to see that again.)

More than once, the restive slim majority tried to interrupt. "Give him the gavel" one schlub yelled out in the middle, shortly before "and yes, we believe in the peaceful transfer of power," while the Republicans sat on their hands. ("The Fifth," disgraced Mike "Q" Flynn answered, when asked "Do you believe in the peaceful transition of power in United States of America?" That was after Flynn needed a 1 minute, 36 second sidebar with his lawyer before "take the Fifth" for "Do you believe the violence on January 6th was justified?")

When Jeffries noted the "fork in the road" we've come to, and the question of "which direction we will choose," it sounded like someone from the grumpy side yelled out "PERFIDY," but that probably wasn't it, was it? Jeffries ignored the unruly shouters, hardly even broke his cadence.

"The American people, understandably after the events of this week, recognize that the Congress is at a fork in the road, and are asking the question, what direction will we choose? On this first day, I do not pretend to answer that question on behalf of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. But we do extend our hand of partnership to you. And want to make clear that we extend and intend to try to find common ground, whenever and wherever possible on behalf of the American people. Not as Democrats, not as Republicans, not as independents, but as Americans. [The Republicans clapped for that, at least.] But I also want to make clear that we will never compromise our principles.

"House Democrats will always put American values over autocracy. Benevolence over bigotry. The Constitution over the cult. Democracy over demagogues. Economic opportunity over extremism. Freedom over fascism. Governing over gaslighting. Hopefulness over hatred. Inclusion over isolation. Justice over judicial overreach. Knowledge over kangaroo courts. Liberty over limitation. Maturity over Mar-a-lago. Normalcy over negativity. Opportunity over obstruction. People over politics. Quality of life issues over Q-Anon. Reason over racism. Substance over slander. Triumph over tyranny. Understanding over ugliness. Voting rights over voter suppression. Working families over the well-connected. Xennial over xenophobia. Yes we can over you can't do it. And zealous representation over zero-sum confrontation.

"We will always do the right thing by the American people. So let us not grow weary of doing good. For the American people will reap the benefit of the harvest if we do not give up. God bless you. God bless the House. and God bless the United States of America."

The Republicans sat on their hands.

Epiphany, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Justice, in process Permalink to this item

Two years on, the wheels of justice continue to grind.

"Almost 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the events of Jan. 6, 2021, according to a new Justice Department tally released this week. More than half of those charged have already pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial. Prosecutors have a near-perfect conviction record in the cases, with only one defendant–who only faced misdemeanor charges–being acquitted outright.

"One judge handling Jan. 6 cases said this week that he expects another 1,000 could be filed before the prosecution effort is complete...."

The story does not mention the leaders of the failed coup. Donald J. Trump, Mark Meadows, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, John Eastman, Mo Brooks, Josh Hawley are top of my list, but not—yet—top of the DOJ's.

By one count (and detailed tabulation), Trump "has been credibly accused of committing at least 56 criminal offenses since he launched his campaign for president in 2015." Without even counting his fraudulent business dealings.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes Permalink to this item

I keep thinking about Chip Roy (and other members of the GOP rump) celebrating "this is how it's supposed to work! Everybody in the chamber, debating" and so on. Yeah, it's great to have all (but one) of the 434 members-elect on C-Span, but the disorderly House is not "working." And back in the closets, here's what's going on for the 2nd anniversary of Donald J. Trump's failed insurrection (per my favorite daily historian, Heather Cox Richardson):

"Throughout the day [on Jan. 5], the allies of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (CA) negotiated with the 20 extremists who refuse to back him, apparently offering them more and more power to win their votes. McCarthy has allegedly agreed to their demand that a single person can force a vote to get rid of the speaker, a demand that puts him at their mercy and that he had previously insisted he would never accept. He has also apparently offered members of the hard-right Freedom Caucus two spots on the House Rules Committee, which decides how measures will be presented to the House, and given them control over appropriations bills. He is also said to be considering letting them choose committee chairs, jumping over those with seniority. 

"This will not sit well with the rest of the conference. Lawyer and Washington Post columnist George Conway wrote, “I’m no political scientist, but it does strike me that a guy who negotiates by giving stuff up and and getting nothing in return probably wouldn’t make a good leader of a legislative body.”

We had four years of kakistocracy in the Executive branch; now it's in the House.

"One of the extremists, Ralph Norman (R-SC), who wanted Trump to declare martial law in 2021 in order to retain the White House, said that McCarthy will get his vote only if he agrees not to raise the debt ceiling and will instead shut down the government and default on the national debt."

Then I'm reminded that in the midst of the violent attack on the US Capitol two years ago today, Lauren Boebert tweeted out "The Speaker has been removed from the chambers." Snopes reminds us that she's a QAnon "supporter" and "promised to carry a gun to Congress," which she may be doing now that the metal detectors have been removed. I wonder what she'll shoot first.

It's SHOW TIME Permalink to this item

The teaser to the MSNBC video from a third party promised that Lauren Boebert was "torched live on air by fed-up anchor," Stephanie Rule. "What you're seeing here is a Constitutional Republic at work!" Boebert insisted (and yeah, she would use Title Case).

The exasperated anchor asks how long, oh Lord? and this is a hanging softball right in BoBo's wheelhouse. As long as it takes! This is So Important, what's the hurry? (And the ever-present subtext: what we are about is destroying government. This isn't a delay it's the process we want to happen.)

"Till the cherry blossoms bloom," BoBo says, with a shit-eating grin.

Screencap from MSNBC

Then Boebert imagines she and the rump are "actually" keeping Congress from "spending money that we don't have, so we're actually 'winning' here" ha ha. Except, no, that's not how it works. That's not how anything works. BoBo acknowledges that "Nancy Pelosi is ruling with a dead hand anyway." If they ever manage to reboot the House, will they engineer a government shutdown at the next debt ceiling hurdle? Yer darn tootin' they will.

There are some people that leave you worse off by talking to them. Less informed, less capable, less human. Lauren Boebert and her rump allies, Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, Scott Perry, Bob Good, and on and on, are a black hole cluster, absorbing intelligible governance into a content-free, compacted mass of uselessness.

"We had a message that was 'Uniting America'" BoBo rambles on. Did you now? Ruhle puts up the numbers from the last election, Boebert's red district that just barely gave her the nod. (How red? They voted for Trump over Biden by +5.5%.) 163,293 CO-3 voters wanted a Democrat to represent them in the House. 163,839 voters said MOAR CUHRAZY. A 0.17% margin, just 546 votes out of 327,132 cast.

Boebert says what she hears from her constitutents (the ones who she listens to; who take the trouble to try to talk to her) is "they're furious" about GOP talking points. No doubt.

Brian Tyler Cohen, said third party, steps into explain what's happening, somewhat gratuitously. He's a little too dialed up to 11 all the time for my taste, but at the beginning, he provides this useful one line summary:

"If government is broken, it's because someone is breaking it."

5.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The 20, and what's next Permalink to this item

The perihelion edition of Heather Cox Richardson's Letters from an American is my eye-opener today, as we prepare for day 3 of the 118th Congress, with the House "technically [having] no members." It's not so much news as history even as it's still in the making. And it has been a long time coming, ever since Ronald Reagan worked the line that "government is the problem."

A number of the Republican members-elect spoke yesterday about "good faith," as if we could assume it at this juncture. We cannot. The neo-Republican project of the last four decades has been willful deconstruction of government, and twenty of the most extreme are bringing that bad faith to fruition.

'Closed for Renovation' on the sign at a local construction site

"The chaos suggests that Republican leadership does not have the skills it needs to govern," HCR observes, comparing Nancy Pelosi's leadership with an equally slim majority four years ago.

Just weeks ago, McCarthy and his supporters were furious at Senate Republicans for negotiating with their Democratic colleagues to pass the omnibus bill to fund the government, insisting they could do a better job. Now they can’t even agree on a speaker. “Thank God they weren’t in the majority on January 6, [2021]” Pelosi told reporters, “because that was the day you had to be organized to stave off what was happening, to save our democracy, to certify the election of the president.”

It's time we rewrote Reagan. Government isn't the problem (obviously); bad government is the problem. HCR cites, and links to the so-called Conservative Action Project's call for new House leadership, supporting the rump 20 who want to drive the bus from the back seat. She highlights some of the signers, "from President Ronald Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese III to Trump lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman, who were both instrumental in the effort to overturn Biden’s election in 2020, and Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife Ginni Thomas, who also participated in that effort."

George K. Rasley, Jr. is there, managing editor of Richard Viguerie's screed farm, Conservative HQ. Gary L. Bauer, now of "American Values." (They so love claiming territory.) The execrable former member of congress Steve King. The Club for Growth, the Eagle Forum, Faith Wins, Less Government (give them props for honesty in that name), FreedomWorks, Citizens United, Tea Party Patriots Citizen Fund are all represented (and disclaimed: "All organizations listed for IDENTIFICATION purposes only"). Retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, the Executive Vice President of the Family Research Council.

I had to go back and check if Ed Meese had ever been indicted. Apparently not, by Wikipedia's report, just the Bechtel scandal, the Iran-Contra scandal cover-up, and the Wedtech scandal, which sealed his deal, leading to his resignation in 1988 after an independent counsel delivered its (still confidential, what do you know) report. Then in his dotage, Ronald Reagan couldn't quite muster a campaign-strength turn of phrase to speak up for his Attorney General. "If Ed Meese is not a good man, there are no good men," he said. Right. Back to HCR:

"That Republicans now have a wing openly determined to destroy the federal government is not a function of a few outliers who have wormed their way into Congress; it is the logical outcome of this worldview. Lawmakers like Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) are clearly enjoying the power they are currently wielding, but their larger project is the one the party has advertised since they were children: stopping the government from any of the actions it has called “Marxist” or “socialist,” burning it all down to make white Americans free.

"Destruction doesn’t take skill at governance; it only requires obstruction. The 20 are good at that."

She finishes with a hopeful note, of "a new era [] pushing the Reagan era aside." I hope she's right. We've got a long way to climb up out of the swamp.

Perihelion, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The rump drives the House into a ditch, day 2 Permalink to this item

Fun fact: all the 434 folks in line to be members of Congress are "Representatives-elect" here on January 4. All the members of the 117th Congress lost their membership at noon EST yesterday, per the Constitution. Thanks to Matt "PwnAllTheThings" Tait for that information yesterday: The House has No Members and the Bootstrapping of Power.

In the weird news category, junior chaos agent Marjorie Taylor Greene is on team McCarthy (along with senior chaos agent, Donald J. Trump), and dissing the faction that's blocking the bootstrapping. Another worthy read scrolled by as I was live-tooting today's House session, "Tony Stark" on kakistocracy:

"A kakistocracy is a government run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens.

"The Republican Party has spent decades destroying the competence, character, principles, morals, ethics, and reliability of our government, which is really supposed to be there to do the people's work.

"Kevin McCarthy, the great Republican empty suit with nary a thought in his mind, desperately seeks the Speakership and wants to be Lord of the GOP House Flies.

"If Republicans bring this much chaos to even electing a speaker, they cannot be counted on to fulfill the body’s basic responsibilities let alone the more complex tasks. Kevin McCarthy has already promised to refuse to fulfill the body's basic responsibilities. He and his supporters seek to disrupt and defame, not govern.

"This is what happens you vote Republican."

The real reason the chaos in the House should scare us: Can this Congress actually pass a debt ceiling increase?

While the not-yet-members are a-chatter (and a-Twitter), word from the C-Span voiceover guy is that "Kevin McCarthy has begun talking with Democrats" to see if they can form a coalition to break the impasse.

My prediction for today was that they'd have one vote and then a motion to adjourn, with the excitement about whether the body would agree, or not. Vote #4 failed much as the previous three had: all 212 Democrats stayed with their man, Hakeem Jeffries. 20 of the rumps voted for Byron Donalds, Florida-19 man, nominated by Chip Roy who first celebrated him being Black, and the nomination of two Black men for Speaker for the first time ever, as if they'd hit their quota. Alison W:

The 'he's black and there are two nominees for the first time' (waits for applause) followed by 'we don't judge people on their skin' was definitely taking the proverbial.

If there was any next-level wheeling and dealing, there was no sign of it in the 5th vote. Would the firmly resistant rump be persuaded by Warren Davidson's little nomination speech? It seemed wildly unlikely, especially when he got to talking about how a lot of people don't trust McCarthy, and a lot of people don't trust those dissenters.

He recited all of McCarthy's capitulations to the sabotage faction; look at everything we've given you, why don't you declare victory?! (I assume the answer is, you haven't given us everything we're demanding yet.) Included in the list was a "Church-style commission," which a lot of listeners might not have recognized as the nearly half a century ago Church Committee that investigated abuses by the CIA, NSA, FBI and IRS back in 1975, under the leadership of Idaho's great Democratic Senator Frank Church.

Pete Aguilar nominates the top choice from the first four ballots, Hakeem Jeffries, for the fifth time. And Lauren Boebert rises to nominate Byron Donalds again, presaging a 5th failure. She talks about how she and her faction colleagues have "worked tirelessly," and "negotiated in good faith." I don't know.

Vote #5 follows much the same pattern as the first four, except that Michael Cloud (TX-27) did not answer his call, and Andrew Clyde (GA-9) got to cast the deciding 5th not-McCarthy vote. (Clyde was turning around with a "what, me?" look on his face, not expecting to be on the spot.)

More members-elect missed their call this round. No evidence it was done strategically, they're just losing focus as this drags on. Scott Perry, Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff missed their moments. George Santos has found someone to talk to, is the good news for him, but whoops, he missed his call in the midst of the conversation.

After the cleanup round, it was 212 for Jeffries, 201 for McCarthy, 20 for Donalds, and Victoria Sparks "Present" again. Cue the definition of stupidity, if not insanity.

C-Span reports that they talked to Byron Donalds about what he wants, and word was that being able to Move to Vacate the Speaker's chair with ONE VOTE is their non-negotiable. They don't want a short leash, they want to have their hands right on a choke collar.

SPOILER ALERT: The vote #6 result was identical with vote #5. 201-212-20-0-1. Democrat Hakeem Jeffries leads the field for a second day.

C-Span livestream screenshot from the House of Representatives

3.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Team Hakeem is in the House! Permalink to this item

I enjoyed Pete Aguilar's nomination speech (for Hakeem Jeffries, for Speaker of the House) a lot more than Elise Stefanik's for Kevin McCarthy. "A Latino is nominating for Speaker a Black man, for the first time in our history."

Then Paul Gosar stood up on his hind legs, with a message of brokenness, to nominate Andy Biggs. A handful of members applaud, weakly. Not a speech. Lame.

So the GOP rump gets to drive the car: they can refuse to elect McCarthy, they can go rogue and elect Hakeem Jeffries, or they can get in line. On the first vote? Nope; there enough votes for Biggs and "Others" to kibosh the first vote before two hundred are cast.

The final tally on C-Span's box score was 211 for Jeffries, 202 for McCarthy, 10 for Biggs, and 9 "Others," which is 432, 2 short of the 434 current members. (One death, and the "delegates" for American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands don't get to vote.) Gaetz and Gosar and their pals yuk it up in the cheap seats. They really showed him, eh? How many rounds will they keep it up? And why? So what, will Kevin try to give still more concessions to the rump when they take a break? It's Day One of the 118th Congress in disarray.

Not sure who Chip Roy voted for, but the clerk said "Donald" after he spoke up. Duck, or Trump? [Edit: It was Byron Donald.]

Mysteriously, the C-Span leader board is revised when it's put back up. 212 for McCarthy, 203 for Jeffries, 10 Biggs, 9 Others. That's the right total, 434, but not how it went down. They update it to 212 for Jeffries—all 212 Democrats—203 for McCarthy, 10 and 9 for Biggs and Others.

Screencap from C-Span, 1st ballot for Speaker of the House

It's almost quarter past 2pm EST when the Clerk gavels the House back to order. To announce the official tally. Team Hakeem won the applause-o-meter by a wide margin. Biggs gets a wan round from his 10 voters. The Others were 6 for Jordan, 1 for Banks, 1 for Zeldin, 1 for Byron Donald.

Jim Jordan rises to nominate McCarthy for the 2nd ballot, and make a speech with the extreme right talking points, and then finally, an exhortation to vote for his friend McCarthy. Quotes scripture, and his distilled takeaway from Timothy: Fight - Finish - Keep. (And look the other way when the powerless are attacked on your watch.)

Pete Aguilar re-nominates Hakeem Jeffries, and promises unified support for the Democratic nominee.

Matt Gaetz stands up for "the most talented, hardest-working member" to nominate Jim "Humble, perhaps Humble to a Fault" Jordan, and then disses the hell out of Kevin McCarthy, who's trying to laugh it off.

The crowd is so not behind Gaetz; he gets a weaker round of applause then Andy Biggs' 15 seconds of fame brought. Before the 2nd vote's roll call clears the Cs, Jordan collects 7 votes, and McCarthy will lose again. Gaetz make it 8. Gosar makes it 10.

I took a lunch break and when I came back, the tally of the 2nd vote ended with cleanup for the MIA, and 213 votes for Jeffries. He picked up a defector? Maybe not; the revised it to 212-203. All 19 not-McCarthies went to Jordan. The 3rd (&tc.) nominating speeches could be lit.

Steve Scalise draws the short straw for round three, bellows out how the Republicans are all about GETTING BIG THINGS DONE. Pete Aguilar keeps it short. And Chip Roy rises before the roll call can get started for a 2-way, thundering off on a speech about how dysfunctional the House is? Is there a nomination in there somewhere? Why is the Clerk not interrupting him to demand he get to the point he claimed to be rising to address? Another nomination, sir! Name another also-ran. Will it be Donald J. Trump, finally?

Nope, it's going to be Jim Jordan again (he says he will, before he does). To "stop the swamp from rolling over the American people!" and the Clerk does not give anyone else a chance to add a nominee. The Reading Clerk begins again. Don't envy her that job.

Biggs votes for Jordan again; the C-Span switcher was on him. Bishop. Boebert. More names I didn't catch. Crane for Jordan makes 7. Gaetz makes 9. If the Dems keep their perfect attendance record, McCarthy has easily lost the 3rd vote, too.

Oh, speaking of perfect attendance, if some of the Republicans leave the chamber, 212 for Jeffries could be a majority, too. But not today; after three x 434 votes, a motion to adjourn until noon tomorrow was almost universally supported, and we're done for the day.

Last words, from Heather Cox Richardson's Jan. 3 daily:

Today, the Republicans took over the House of Representatives.

The first thing they did was to remove the metal detectors that were installed after the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol....

She reminds us that the extremist faction in the Republican Party blocking Kevin McCarthy's ascension are "lawmakers who were key in former president Trump’s attempt to overthrow the 2020 election, men like Scott Perry (R-PA), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Jim Jordan (R-OH)."

Politico’s Heidi Przybyla recalled that in his 2021 memoir, former Republican speaker John Boehner said of this faction: “What they’re really interested in is chaos.… They want to throw sand in the gears of the hated federal government until it fails and they’ve finally proved that it’s beyond saving.” And they are tied tightly to right-wing media: “Every time they vote down a bill, they get another invitation to go on Fox News or talk radio,” he said. “Its a narcissistic—and dangerous—feedback loop.”

And last but not least, this guy, or should I say deez nuts:

Tonight, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) wrote to the Architect of the Capitol complaining that McCarthy had occupied the office of the House speaker without having been elected. “How long will he remain there before he is considered a squatter?” Gaetz asked. “Please write back promptly as it seems Mr. McCarthy can no longer be considered Speaker-Designate following today’s balloting.”

2.Jan.2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Swearing in down south Permalink to this item

Hard not to hear Lula speaking to us as well as to the Brasilian people (after translation):

"We do not carry any spirit of revenge against those who tried to subjugate the nation to their personal and ideological purposes, but we will guarantee the rule of law. Those who made mistakes will answer for their mistakes, with the right to defense within the due legal process."

His predecessor skipped the inauguration and fled to Florida, just like our former guy.

"Mr. Bolsonaro was supposed to pass Mr. Lula the presidential sash on Sunday, an important symbol of the peaceful transition of power in a nation where many people still recall the 21-year military dictatorship that ended in 1985....

"On Sunday, Mr. Lula ascended the ramp to the presidential offices with a diverse group of Brazilians, including a Black woman, a disabled man, a 10-year-old boy, an Indigenous man and a factory worker. A voice then announced that Mr. Lula would accept the green-and-yellow sash from “the Brazilian people,” and Aline Sousa, a 33-year-old garbage collector, played the role of Mr. Bolsonaro and placed the sash on the new president."

Bogus webcam, sunrise today

So little confidence Permalink to this item

Kevin McCarthy is in the heat of pre-capitulation. Yesterday evening news from Politico's Ferris and Beavers reports his "biggest concession so far to the band of conservatives standing in the way of his path to speaker," and that it may not be "enough to clinch his gavel," a catchy new-to-me metaphoric combo.

"In a lengthy conference call on Sunday, McCarthy and his team informed members that he would lower the barriers for rank-and-file members to attempt to depose a sitting speaker, a change that some GOP lawmakers have warned could weaken their leadership team. If adopted, the new rule would allow five members of the House majority to force a vote of no-confidence in their leader—a long-time demand of the party’s right flank."

Five back-bench trolls get bent out of shape, and a "motion to vacate" could break the clinch. That's "part of a broad slate of GOP rule changes"—55 pages of them—"unveiled Sunday night." In case you're wondering, the reliable troll (and troll-elect*) count is currently 9: Scott Perry (PA-10), Paul Gosar (AZ-4), Andy Ogles (TN-5*), Anna Paulina Luna (FL-13*), Eli Crane (AZ-2*), Chip Roy (TX-21), Dan Bishop (NC-9), Andy Harris (MD-1), Andrew Clyde (GA-9). Their Happy New Year missive opens "regrettably, however":

"[Despite some progress achieved [sic], Mr. McCarthy's statement [late on New Year's Eve] comes almost impossibly late to address continued deficiences ahead of the opening of the 118th Congress on January 3rd.

"At this stage, it cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many o fthe crucial points still under debate are insufficient. ... [T]here continued to be missing specific commitments with respect to virtually every component of our entreaties, and thus, no means to measure whether promises are kept or broken..."

"Almost," so the bridge is not quite annihilated? They end by saying "the progress made thus far has been helpful," that's nice, and puts the lie to the direness of their negotiation. Tomorrow, January 3rd, is the big day, with or without them. McCarthy is an awful choice for Speaker, no argument there. But the GOP seems to have no one better to offer.

Another Representative-elect in the conference call, Mike Lawler of NY, "asked Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) if he would support McCarthy if he agreed to lower the threshold to one." That is, if just ONE congressman could make a motion to vacate and force a confidence vote on the Speaker.

"Gaetz replied by noting McCarthy wouldn’t agree to that, to which the California Republican replied that it is the conference that will oppose that threshold. And McCarthy said he’d like to hear Gaetz’s answer, but Gaetz—one of his most fervent opponents—said he’d think about it. At one point he asked: is that an offer?"

I confess, I took a look at Twitter to see Beavers' image of the letter, and a few of the comments.

"I know. I know. Democrats in disarray."

"Republicans are an absolute dumpster fire - here's why that's bad news for Democrats." - NYT

And FTW:

"PRESS RELEASE: George Santos says he was elected House Speaker"

If that's not enough, add this to the irony ore heap. An ethics task force, and a "weaponization" subcommittee (of Judiciary, to be led by Jim "beam in the eye" Jordan:

"Republicans will push ethics reforms, calling for the first members-focused ethics task force in 25 years and a new feature that would allow the House Ethics Committee to take complaints directly from the public. The package would also create a new select subcommittee within the Judiciary Committee called the “Weaponization of Federal Government,” to focus on what the GOP has called the White House’s “assault on civil liberties” — another conservative ask."

Pre-update (from Dec. 30), from Joan McCarter on Daily Kos: GOP House sets agenda for first few weeks, and yes, it's ridiculous

New Year's Day, 2023 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Short people got every reason to live Permalink to this item

Not sure how funny she was intending to be, but I found myself chuckling steadily while reading Mara Altman's NYT op-ed, There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be Short. (It's a gift link to the NYT; Happy New Year!)

I've been on the small end of things all my life, topping out at 5'8" some time ago. I was clearly disadvantaged for basketball, and American football (weight-wise, if not technically height-wise), but that leaves plenty of fun sports.

She didn't even get around to mentioning the benefit of having (somewhat) adequate legroom on airplanes.

The work of defending democracy continues Permalink to this item

I've marched in the street (starting a long time ago), demonstrated, written to legislators, congressmen (never had a congresswoman), signed petitions, contributed time, effort, and money to lots of organizations, and will no doubt keep doing it. The current Daily Kos Democracy Project petition to expel the members of Congress who supported the January 6 insurrection is definitely a worthy call. Especially for those who actively participated, including the four they name in the cover page, Andy Biggs (AZ), Mo Brooks (AL), Matt Gaetz (FL), Louie Gohmert (TX), and Scott Perry (PA). There are certainly "other Republican members of Congress," unnamed, who should be on the list.

Dec. 31, 2022 photo at Boise R.

But. Congress should vote to expel them immediately, but they're not going to. Certainly not if Keven McCarthy realizes his sorry dream to become Speaker of the House. A tit-for-tat, facts-don't-matter impeachment is more likely. Expulsion isn't within the realm of possibility with Jim Jordan spinning up a full-time clown show in the Judiciary Committee, and James Comer in the Oversight Committee. Marcy Wheeler outlined the irony of the prospect of Look The Other Way Committees a month and half ago. "Brought to you by access journalism," was the rest of her blog post title, featuring Politico's "breaking news." Literally.

"Politico’s Jordain Carney did not note the irony of planning, almost four months before the election, an investigation into foreign efforts to gain influence by paying the then Vice President’s son years ago, next to a claim to want to eliminate wasteful spending. He just described it as if yet another investigation into Hunter Biden, even as DOJ continued its own investigation, wasn’t an obvious waste of government resources.

"Politico’s Olivia Beavers didn’t point that out either in a 1,400-word profile in August on James Comer entitled, “Meet the GOP’s future king of Biden investigations,” the kind of sycophantic profile designed to ensure future access, known as a “beat sweetener.” (Beaver is currently described as a Breaking News Reporter; this profile was posted 3 days after the search of Mar-a-Lago.)..."

Beavers also reported that Jordan and Comer had plans "to investigate politicization in federal law enforcement," with Comer letting the cat out of the bag and waving it right in the air: "We are going to make it very clear that this is now an investigation of President Biden." Wheeler:

"There is no functioning democracy in which the opposition party’s first act after winning a majority should be investigating the private citizen son of the President for actions taken three to six years earlier, particularly not as a four year criminal investigation into Hunter Biden — still overseen by a Trump appointee — continues."

There was an exceedingly slim chance that the 117th Congress, in its waning hours of lame ducking, might have stood up on its hind legs and taken action to hold its most partisan, and most lawless members to account. With this new year, that pipe dream has swirled up the chimney, with no Santa Claus scheduled to come by and deliver the antitode for the 118th. Among the investigations that Jim and Jim won't be persuing:

"[S]ince leaving the White House, the Trump family has entered into more than $3.6 billion of deals with Saudi Arabia ($2 billion to Jared’s investment fund [greenlit by none other than Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman], a $1.6 billion real estate development in Oman announced the day before Trump’s re-election bid, and a golf deal of still-undisclosed value...."

She links to Judd Legum's piece, Trump's paymaster, as seen out on the links with him: Yasir al-Rumayyan, head of the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia. Never one to put too fine a point on it, the Donald gushed in October about the "big-time money." "It's unlimited money," he said. You might have missed that (as I did) if you don't follow the Golf Channel.

Look who else has their hand in the till: former SecTreas Steven Mnuchin, with his own private equity gig mostly infused with "sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund." "The people" talking to Bloomberg "asked not to be named because the details are private," of course.

Sherilyn Ifill provides the call to action in resolution form: 2023 - The Work We Must Do. In this in-between year, "the building blocks of the foundational integrity of our democracy, and the most intense threats to it, are unfolding at the local level – on school boards, county commissions, among so-called “constitutional sheriffs,” and among state court judges." Do not let yourself be led away from the work: "We must fight for transparency, accountability, fairness, equality and justice."

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007